litmus tests

Becca at Not Quite Sure poses an interesting pair of questions:

"Here's a political litmus test: What are you most upset about today,
Dr. Tiller or GM? Here's an…intellectual? ideological? oh, let's just
call it another litmus test: What are you blogging about today?"

I have no doubt that 40 years from now, when my hypothetical grandchildren learn about this period in history, the collapse of the US auto industry will feature prominently.  And my guess is that Dr. Tiller won't be mentioned, although the culture wars more broadly will.

That said, I'm not really upset about GM going into bankruptcy.  A bit sad, but not really upset.  Both because it's been coming for so long that it's not shocking, and because the good union jobs in the auto industry were going away whether or not GM managed to avoid bankruptcy.  And I'm going to blog about Tiller, not GM, because I don't have anything particularly original to say about GM.  (If you want to read about GM, go re-read Gladwell's article about why GM should be understood as a health insurance company that finances itself by selling cars.)

So, back to Tiller.  With Obama nominating Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and presumably getting make at least one more and possibly several nominations, I think abortion is likely to remain legal for the foreseeable future.  But Tiller's murder drives home the degree to which the question of whether abortion is legal has become almost completely separate from the question of whether women who want an abortion can get one.  According to Planned Parenthood, more than 85 percent of counties in the US do not have a single abortion provider.  Tiller was one of only a few doctors in the whole country who do late-term abortions.

I can't blame doctors who decide that they're not up to facing the screaming protestors, the constant threats on their lives and their families.  And there's a selection issue — because so many doctors don't do abortions at all, it's easy for a doctor who is willing to serve women in this way to find that they're spending most of their time doing abortions.  But it's pretty hollow to have a legal right to an abortion if you can't actually find someone to do it.  Wealthy women will always be able to travel to providers (at least, if they don't need the abortion because of an immediate crisis) but poor women won't.

8 Responses to “litmus tests”

  1. jen Says:

    I don’t think it’s a wealthy vs. poor thing as much as it’s rural vs. urban/suburban. When we quote statistics about the number of counties without a provider, that’s what we’re talking about — vast tracts of the nation, mostly outside of cities, with no providers for this kind of health care. But if you consider that rural areas already basically get sub-standard, very spotty health care, and that rural people are used to driving a couple of hours for a doctor’s appointment, it becomes less of a surprise. (Elizabeth would probably know the relationship between rural settings and poverty.)
    Considering this, then, the Big Deal with Dr. Tiller was not that he did late-term, IMHO, but that he was in Kansas.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Oh, the lack of providers is definitely a rural thing — the same link says that 97 percent of rural counties lack an abortion provider. But if you’ve got money, an airplane ticket or an overnight hotel room aren’t a big deal. If you don’t, they can become major obstacles.

  3. jen Says:

    I guess my point is that, if you’re living in an urban area, your poverty won’t necessarily keep you from an abortion. But if you’re rural, it stops you cold.

  4. urbanartiste Says:

    I really applaud the abortion doctor and friend of Tiller (can’t recall his name) that was on CNN the other night trying to clarify the need for late-term abortions. I am not sure if this is on point, but it will not suprise me if the future will focus on the historical impact of GM over Tiller. Although, women do work for GM, the auto industry, on the surface, is male, while abortions issues are more about women. My point is that women’s issues are being historically ignored in favor of ecomomic and male issues.
    As a Gen-Xer I can’t recall a time in my life where the auto industry has not been suffering. The golden age of the automobile was over a long time ago and it was short-lived and by a fortunate group of people (those profiting from it and those that could afford a car). The lesson in all this should be that the economy and jobs needs to be diversified. I think the healthcare issues is an interesting point; I was listening to public radio the other day discuss how the “big three” auto makers fought universal healthcare years ago to their own detriment in a competitive foreign market.

  5. Joe Says:

    Interesting to see you refer to Gladwell’s piece, relying as it does on a “Celtic Tiger” that has so recently been defanged.
    (Stop by the Cafe’s blog topic at some point soon, if you would, please)

  6. Sara Says:

    So true. And I have to disagree with Jen — the big deal is wealthy vs. poor, and it’s definitely the fact that Dr. Tiller was one of the last very late-term abortion providers (in addition to the fact that he was in Kansas, although his clinic is in the capitol of the state).
    My job involves finding funding for low-income women to have abortions and I talk to women everyday who can’t imagine being able to afford a first-trimester abortion (at about $300-600). When you get up into the 20-26 week range, which is where Dr. Tiller did a lot of his work, most women have to travel and pay for a hotel room for several nights in addition to paying as much as $10,000. For middle- and upper-class women, this is daunting. For low-income women, it’s impossible, even with the help we give them. Not only did Dr. Tiller’s murderer rob us of one of the few late-term providers, he/she placed yet another barrier up for women who have to travel even farther, pay even more, stay over additional nights, to have a legal operation.

  7. dave.s. Says:

    I see anti-abortion and abortion-on-demand people talking past each other a lot. If anyone reading this post hasn’t seen it, I recommend the McArdle post http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/06/a_really_long_post_about_abort.php about the morals here. I don’t think this issue will settle down, and I think abortion providers are going to have to practice from fortresses for the foreseeable future. I favor abortion-on-demand, myself – this is because I do NOT see a fetus as a person, I think humanness comes from interaction with the world, after birth. But if one does see a baby in every conception, there’s a moral imperative to oppose abortion. ‘If you don’t want abortion, don’t have one’ is a moral nonsense, equivalent to ‘I can kill my 3-year-old for pissing the bed; if you don’t think that’s okay, keep your 3-year-old despite the extra clean-up’
    I worked in an abortion clinic, years ago – handyman in the Planned Parenthood in San Francisco – and it didn’t look like a very pleasant kind of medicine to practice. Not why you go to med school, I think. A fair number of the patients were girls in their Catholic school uniforms, which was striking. My jobs included working the roto-rooter when the drains had clogged and fluid from the vacuum aspirators was spilling on the floor in the basement, it was kind of pink. It was good for the clinic to have me do it, as I was sort of family, and you never knew how a plumber would react if he came in and figured out just what he was clearing the drains for.
    I like Clinton’s formulation on this: safe legal and rare.

  8. dave.s. Says:

    Here’s a guy whose prayers were answered!
    http://www.examiner.com/x-4317-Denver-Roman-Catholic-Examiner~y2009m6d9-Pastor-who-prayed-for-Tillers-death-now-prays-for-death-of-the-president

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